- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Goalie Olie Kolzig won his 20th game for the seventh time, Alex Ovechkin had a goal and an assist and Washington Capitals management got a victory in the team’s final home game of the season, sending the fans away for the summer in a good mood.

But it was a night for the foot soldiers, the offensive linemen of the NHL, the guys who muck and grind every game and receive little recognition.

Matt Pettinger (two goals), Brooks Laich (goal and assist), Rico Fata (goal and assist) and Brian Willsie (goal) powered the Caps to a 6-4 victory over Atlanta at Verizon Center as they exacted a little revenge for the poundings the Thrashers inflicted on Washington at the beginning of the season.

“We got the last laugh,” Kolzig said.

The loss eliminated Atlanta from playoff contention and sewed up the final two Eastern Conference berths for Montreal and Tampa Bay. Washington closes out the season tonight at Tampa Bay.

“You’ve got Ovechkin and [Dainius] Zubrus, and the rest of the group are a hard-working bunch of individuals,” Caps coach Glen Hanlon said. “To me you cannot win without skill and talent. You cannot get 68 points without Ovechkin, but boy, I’ll tell you what, I think all coaches have soft spots in their hearts for character people who work every single game and do not get rewarded with the accolades.”

Washington overcame a sloppy defensive performance by scoring three times in the third period to wipe out a one-goal Atlanta lead provided when former Caps player Peter Bondra scored his 21st of the season and 498th of his career.

Ovechkin started the third period rally by tying the score with his 52nd goal, which moved him into a tie (Bondra did it twice) for third place all time on the Caps’ single-season goals list. The rookie later assisted on Willsie’s game-winner to give him 105 points on the season.

Willsie scored the winner with 11 minutes left, plenty of time for the desperate Thrashers to turn their high-powered offense up and put the game out of reach. But Pettinger scored his 20th of the season at 12:26 for a two-goal lead, and with Kolzig in net, the game was all but over.

There were, however, still some tight moments. After a timeout with 3:13 left, the Thrashers pulled goalie Mike Dunham and went with six attackers in an effort to draw closer. Atlanta poured eight shots in on Kolzig in the final few minutes, but he turned them all aside.

“It’s no secret — we hate that team,” Kolzig said. “I think it started at the beginning of the year. I’m not going to say they’re dirty, but they push the limits on how [aggressively] they play. They spanked us a few times earlier in the year. This was sweet revenge.

“What we’ve done is a testament to how hard the guys in here work. It shows how tight we are as a team. Going into next year there are going to be some changes, obviously for the better, but at the same time I hope we don’t make too many changes to mess the chemistry up. We’re looking forward to next year.”

Notes — Hershey defenseman Mike Green, picked by the Caps in the first round in 2004, has been named American Hockey League player of the week. He had a goal and five assists in two games last week. … Center Dave Steckel was re-assigned to Hershey after two games with Washington as an emergency injury replacement. He had to go back when center Brian Sutherby recovered enough to play. … Defenseman Nolan Yonkman, hardly an offensive threat, had his first two-point game in January and last night had two points in the same period. … Bobby Holik’s goal 11 seconds into the game was not the quickest ever against Washington. Greg Paslawski of St. Louis scored eight seconds into a game Oct. 29, 1985.

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